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HQ 560744

April 28, 1998

CLA-2 RR:CR:SM 560744 MLR


TARIFF NO.: 9802.00.80

Michael A. Roybal, Esq.
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, P.A.
1341 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005-3105

RE: Applicability of partial duty exemption under HTSUS subheading 9802.00.80 to pants; enzyme-washing

Dear Mr. Roybal:

This is in response to your letters of August 25 and November 10, 1997, requesting a ruling on behalf of Levi Strauss & Company ("Levi"), regarding the applicability of subheading 9802.00.80, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), to garments assembled and enzyme-washed in Mexico, the Caribbean and various other countries. Samples of pants before and after the washing process and data sheets describing the washing compounds were submitted with your request.


It is stated that fabric components will be cut in the U.S. and shipped to Mexico, the Caribbean, and various other countries for assembly into pants. After assembly in the respective country, it is stated that the pants will be subject to certain enzyme-washes, referenced in Exhibits A-D, which do not include the use of sodium perborate or any type of bleach. Samples of eight pairs of pants are submitted, two for each enzyme wash showing the pants before and after the washing process. It is stated that the enzyme-washes are used to clean and soften the pants and that there is a slight change in the color of the garments. The wash in Exhibit A includes the use of amylase enzyme, acetic acid, and acid stable enzyme and cationic softener; the total wash cycle lasts 24 minutes; and the temperature ranges between 120-140 degrees. The wash in Exhibit B includes the use of acetic acid, acid stable enzyme, soda ash, non ionic detergent, fixer, a binding agent, cationic softener, and silicone softener; the total wash cycle lasts 54 minutes; and the temperature ranges between 120-140 degrees. The wash in Exhibit C includes the use of diatomaceous earth (silica based), acetic acid, acid stable enzyme, non ionic detergent, cationic softener, and silicone softener; the total wash cycle lasts 42 minutes; and the temperature ranges between 120-140 degrees. The wash in Exhibit D includes the use of the same ingredients and temperatures as the wash in exhibit C, except that the total wash cycle lasts 32 minutes.


Whether the pants assembled and subjected to the enzyme washing processes described qualify for the partial duty exemption available under subheading 9802.00.80, HTSUS, when returned to the U.S.


Subheading 9802.00.80, HTSUS, provides a partial duty exemption for:

[a]rticles ... assembled abroad in whole or in part of fabricated components, the product of the United States, which (a) were exported in condition ready for assembly without further fabrication, (b) have not lost their physical identity in such articles by change in form, shape or otherwise, and (c) have not been advanced in value or improved in condition abroad except by being assembled and except by operations incidental to the assembly process, such as cleaning, lubricating and painting.

All three requirements of subheading 9802.00.80, HTSUS, must be satisfied before a component may receive a duty allowance. An article entered under this tariff provision is subject to duty upon the full cost or value of the imported assembled article, less the cost or value of the U.S. components assembled therein, upon compliance with the documentary requirements of section 10.24, Customs Regulations (19 CFR 10.24).

You do not state if Levi will use U.S.-origin cut fabric components. However, if Levi uses foreign-origin fabric, the duty allowance provided under 19 U.S.C. 3592(b)(4)(A) as implemented by 19 CFR 10.25, may be applicable:

[t]he value of a component that is cut to shape (but not to length, width, or both) in the United States from foreign fabric and exported to another country ... for assembly into an article that is then returned to the United States -- shall not be included in the dutiable value of such article.

Section 10.25 incorporates by reference the same operational, valuation, and documentation requirements applicable to goods entered under subheading 9802.00.80, HTSUS. Therefore, Customs will allow entry under subheading 9802.00.8065, HTSUS, to goods assembled abroad from textile components cut to shape from foreign fabric in the U.S., and solely for purposes of calculating the duty allowance under this subheading, Customs will treat these textile components as if they were "U.S. fabricated components."

This ruling will only address whether the wash process described above qualifies as an operation incidental to the assembly. In this regard, 19 CFR 10.14(a), states, in part:

[t]he components must be in condition ready for assembly without further fabrication at the time of their exportation from the United States to qualify for the exemption. Components will not lose their entitlement to the exemption by being subjected to operations incidental to the assembly either before, during, or after their assembly with other components.

Operations incidental to the assembly process are not considered further fabrication operations, as they are of a minor nature and cannot always be provided for in advance of the assembly operations. See 19 CFR 10.16(a). Relevant to the facts in this case, section 10.16(b)(1), Customs Regulations {19 CFR 10.16(b)(1)}, provides that "cleaning" is an incidental operation. However, any significant process, operation or treatment whose primary purpose is the fabrication, completion, physical or chemical improvement of a component precludes the application of the exemption under subheading 9802.00.80, HTSUS, to that component. See 19 CFR 10.16(c). Section 10.16(c)(4) specifically provides that the chemical treatment of components or assembled articles to impart new characteristics, such as shower-proofing, permapressing, sanforizing, dyeing, or bleaching of textiles, is not considered incidental to the assembly process.

You contend that the enzyme washes to which the pants are subjected are analogous to cleaning operations within the meaning of 19 CFR 10.16(b)(1) because the pants are give a softer, smoother feel, but their characteristics or color of their fabric are not substantially changed.

As support for your position you cite Headquarters Ruling Letter (HRL) 557195 dated October 14, 1993, where Customs considered trousers and shorts made from a variety of fabrics that were washed with a detergent and enzyme fabric softener to give the garments a softer, smoother feel. It was found that the addition of an enzyme in fabric softener did not alter the color of the fabric or change its texture, and, therefore, was more analogous to those cases which have held that washing in detergent and fabric softener are operations incidental to assembly.

In HRL 558982 dated March 3, 1995, woven trousers were subjected to an enzyme wash (consisting of buffer, enzyme, silicone, and amine softener) which Customs found was incidental to the assembly process. In HRL 558818/558819 dated March 29, 1995, Customs considered a "silk wash" and a "pigment wash". The silk wash consisted of the use of Hyposcour, a non-ionic wetting agent) and Hipchem Silfin, a cationic amino functional silicon). In contrast to the pigment wash, Customs found that while the silk wash produces fading to the fabric, it chiefly served as a fabric softening process and unlike the pigment wash which produced an inconsistent fading and streaking in the garment, the silk wash yielded a garment that was uniformly and mildly faded from the pre-wash garment and that was slightly softer to the touch. Therefore, the silk wash was found to be incidental to the assembly process and did not impart a significant new characteristic to the garment. In HRL 557115, Customs also considered a "classic wash" which was intended to soften sueded twill fabric. The wash consisted of acetic acid, non-ionic neutral detergent, cellulose enzyme, alkali detergent, sodium perborate, and cationic softener. It was determined that the addition of a softener did not preclude subheading 9802.00.80, HTSUS, treatment; however, the addition of sodium perborate in the wash cycle was too substantial to allow subheading 9802.00.80, HTSUS, treatment.

However, in HRL 559584 dated April 2, 1996, Customs considered denim dresses assembled in Mexico entered under subheading 9802.00.90, HTSUS, that were subjected to various washing, draining and rinsing steps designed to create a "stone-washed" appearance using a desizer to clean the fabric of impurities, enzymes to abrade the fabric, acetic acid to adjust the pH level, and a cationic softener to give the fabric a softer hand. The finished garment emerged softer and appeared slightly worn. In that case, the ruling requester indicated that the characteristics imparted by the enzyme-wash process were basically the same as those imparted by stone-washing, acid-washing, and bleaching. Based upon the fact that Customs had no basis to disagree with the requester's contention in that case, and the fact that these processes while consistently rejected as "incidental to the assembly process" under subheading 9802.00.80, were expressly allowed under subheading 9802.00.90, HTSUS, Customs concluded that the denim garments qualified for duty-free treatment under this tariff provision.

A visual inspection of the four sets of pants in this case indicate that there is some fading. Additionally, the "after" garments are softer to the touch. The Office of Laboratories and Scientific Services also finds that the washing processes described are mild cleaning and softening procedures with minimal fading. That office informs us that although the diatomaceous earth is a mineral product used for abrasion to produce a "stonewash" surface effect, the "after" pants do not exhibit any significant fading or surface abrasion when compared to the "before" pants. The lab also informs us that both the "before" and "after" pants are similar in color, but that the "after" pants are softer due to the action of the enzymes and other softening agents. Based upon this information, it is our opinion that subjecting the pants to the enzyme-washing processes above constitutes an operation which is incidental to the assembly process, pursuant to 19 CFR 10.16(b)(1).

We note that as in the rulings above, various enzyme washing processes have been held to be incidental to the assembly process. We note that HRL 559584 mainly concerned whether "enzyme-washing" was per se an allowed operation as it was not specifically mentioned in subheading 9802.00.90, HTSUS, and while counsel to support this contention stated that it was a substitute for stone-washing, Customs did not confirm that the enzyme wash was the equivalent of stone-washing. In this case, we find based upon the laboratory's analysis report that the enzyme washes sought to be used will create only minor abrasion and fading, and therefore, will be deemed incidental to the assembly process pursuant to 19 CFR 10.16(b)(1).


On the basis of the information and samples submitted, it is our opinion that the washing processes above are incidental to the assembly process, pursuant to 19 CFR 10.16(b)(1). Therefore, the imported pants may be entered under subheading 9802.00.80, HTSUS, with allowances in duty for the cost or value of the U.S. components incorporated therein, upon compliance with the documentary requirements of 19 CFR 10.24.

A copy of this ruling letter should be attached to the entry documents filed at the time the goods are entered. If the documents have been filed without a copy, this ruling should be brought to the attention of the Customs officer handling the transaction.


John Durant, Director
Commercial Rulings Division

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